People often think about “history” as something that doesn’t change. But in fact, our perception of the past is constantly evolving, even in little ways.
On August 1, The Verge reported that museum curators at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago had noticed an error with one of their displays. They said an artifact that had been labeled as a “spinning toy” for 85 years was more likely a Mesopotamian mace head.
In other words, the seemingly innocuous item an editor at Wired had joked looked like a fidget spinner was actually far more dangerous—it was the spiked head of a club.
After pictures of the artifact surfaced on Twitter, the institute’s curators hypothesized that the triangular object, dated between 2000 and 1800 B.C.E., had been incorrectly labeled by researchers when it was first categorized it in 1932.
“The excavators recognized that the object was unique, and they speculated it might be rotated and used in ‘astrological divination,’ suggesting the animals represented were a bull, [an] ibex and [a] lion,” wrote Kiersten Neumann, a curator and research associate at the institute, in an email to Live Science.
However, this object barely resembles other toys of the period. “We do have toys that survive from ancient Mesopotamia—baked clay rattles, whistles, animal figurines, and wheeled carts, to name a few,” chief curator Jean Evans told The Verge. “But the fact that this ‘spinning toy’ would be a largely singular example of such a toy also suggests to me that it would be more accurate to think of it as a mace head.”
Even though mace heads from this period are typically made of stone, and this one is made of baked clay, both curators have pointed out that it resembles the shape and design of other mace heads from that period.
The fact that researchers originally discovered the artifact near a temple bolsters this theory. During Mesopotamia’s Isin-Larsa Period, which this object is dated to, maces were considered weapons of the gods.
So if it doesn’t look like any of the other toys of the period, but it does look like other mace heads from that time, why did researchers even think it was a plaything in the first place?
“All I can say is that our ideas change over time,” Evans told The Verge.
Apparently, one researcher’s fidget spinner is another one’s deadly weapon.